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How to Apply Vinyl Stripes and Decals- Pontiac Trans Am SE

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What makes a “Bandit” car a “Bandit”? While the general public believes any black, late ‘70s to be a bandit car, in reality, Pontiac never made a “Bandit” edition. The cars used in the hit movie were Pontiac Trans Am SE (Special Edition) cars in black. The SE cars, coded Y82 for cars with T-tops, and Y81 for solid-roof cars, were built from 1976 through 1978, while Y84 represents the 1979-1981 SE models. There were 2 main colors- black and gold. The 1976 black SE car was built to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Pontiac, and was the first model to kick off the SE edition cars. The Gold SE models, which were coded Y88, use the same stripes and trim as the black cars. There was also a silver SE model, in 1979 celebrating the 10th anniversary. The black cars however are only ones associated with the movie. An interesting side note, while most of the cars in Smokey and the Bandit were SE models, a few non-SE cars were slipped in.

With the increasing popularity of these cars, especially since the 30th anniversary came around, restoring an SE car has never been easier. Specialty restoration stores like Year One and Original Parts Group have tons of parts to help with your project. One area that certainly needs mentioning is the graphics. The SE cars were heavily garnished with gold stripes covering every panel, not to mention the giant screamin’ chicken on the hood. These decals practically created an entire industry, in fact, the leader in automotive restoration graphics started his company manufacturing correct Trans Am decals. While there are other manufacturers, Phoenix Graphix offers what most consider the most complete set of correct TA graphics on the market. We keep mentioning “correct” and that is because most other kits come with multi-piece hood birds. Placing the hood graphic is difficult enough without having to match 3 pieces together. The original hood decal was one piece; it should be replaced with a one-piece bird.

The installation is only part of the process. There are things you need to know before you order your kit. There are 2 styles of SE graphics; 1976-1978 and 1979-1981. The 1976-1978 (SE) used an old English script; 1979-81 SE use block-style lettering. In addition, the engine originally installed in the car makes a difference to. The hood shakers were marked with either “6.6 TA” or “6.6 Liter”. The “6.6 TA” was used on cars installed with the Pontiac 400 engine and have a “Z” listed as the 5th digit in the VIN number. For those who lived in California or high-altitude locations, the Oldsmobile 403 engine SE was offered. This engine is notated by a “K” as the 5th digit in the VIN. The Olds 403 cars are quite rare, with only about 1200 T-topped Y82 SE cars produced in 1977.

Once the kit arrives, the process can begin. While the majority of the decals can be applied by one person, the hood bird requires at least 2 people, but any more than 3 just gets in the way. The biggest trick to correctly applying automotive decals is soapy water. It may sound weird, but a 1-quart spray bottle filled a couple ounces of dish soap and the rest with water will be your best friend. The soapy water serves as a barrier between the decal’s adhesive and the car, temporarily deactivating the glue. This allows you to slide the decal in place without it sticking. Having plenty on hand will make the process easier. Once the position is set, the water solution gets worked out (along with bubbles) of the decal. Spraying a little on top of the decal will also help lubricate the plastic spreader, making sure the decal doesn’t tear or snag. No amount of soapy water will resurrect a crease, so be careful. If you do get a small wrinkle, snag, or bubble don’t freak out, there are fixes but a really bad wrinkle can ruin a decal job, and replacement may be the only option.

Most of the decal placement is generic, the factory didn’t specify a measured placement for the decals, though there are some general guidelines. The hood bird is centered on the hood, and the Phoenix Graphix decal uses notches in the paper to locate the centerline on the center hump of the hood. The front-to-rear placement is a little different. The tail feathers should rest about 1-inch above the front of the hood. The bumper and fender lines are more generic, these get placed in approximate locations. The rear decklid decals are centered, side-to-side on the panel. The hood shaker decal should be placed just below the radius of the top and about a 1\2-inch past the back of the shaker (towards the windshield). The double-line striping will take the longest, as there is a couple of hundred feet of it on the car.

Fred Murfin and the guys at Red Line Auto Sports allowed us to follow along in the process of striping a 1979 Y84 SE Trans Am. The car had been repainted and was in need of fresh decals. The entire process took about 4 hours. These guys have done quite a few of these jobs, so experience shaves time off of a project like this. Expect to take a full day if it is your first time applying decals.

1. The “Bandit” Trans Am is an American icon. A properly restored SE is a thing of beauty, but with incorrect or improperly applied decals, it won’t be.

1. The “Bandit” Trans Am is an American icon. A properly restored SE is a thing of beauty, but with incorrect or improperly applied decals, it won’t be.

2. Laying the stripes down first is the best way to familiarize yourself with decal application. It is pretty easy to start over if you mess up the double lines. Around the shaker, we wrapped one side first, then matched it on the other side. It took a few tries to get it just right.

2. Laying the stripes down first is the best way to familiarize yourself with decal application. It is pretty easy to start over if you mess up the double lines. Around the shaker, we wrapped one side first, then matched it on the other side. It took a few tries to get it just right.

3. The two parallel stripes that run the length of the car should be spaced approximately 4-inches apart. This spacing needs to be kept from the hood to the roof and on to the trunk lid. The stripes were cut and a new line will be started to keep a square edge.

3. The two parallel stripes that run the length of the car should be spaced approximately 4-inches apart. This spacing needs to be kept from the hood to the roof and on to the trunk lid. The stripes were cut and a new line will be started to keep a square edge.

4. Fred Murfin owner of Red Line Auto Sports lays down the roof stripes. The 4-inch spacing on the later (1979-1981) cars is dictated by the T-tops. The earlier cars that had the Hurst Hatches, which were a little smaller, have more roof space, but the 4-inch spacing should be retained.

4. Fred Murfin owner of Red Line Auto Sports lays down the roof stripes. The 4-inch spacing on the later (1979-1981) cars is dictated by the T-tops. The earlier cars that had the Hurst Hatches, which were a little smaller, have more roof space, but the 4-inch spacing should be retained.

5. Ending the stripes that wrap around the taillights is done by overlapping the narrow stripe on the wide stripe. The excess was then trimmed off.

5. Ending the stripes that wrap around the taillights is done by overlapping the narrow stripe on the wide stripe. The excess was then trimmed off.

6. The taillight\trunk stripes were laid as one piece, then cut with a razor blade in the center.  The excess was then wrapped around the edge.

6. The taillight\trunk stripes were laid as one piece, then cut with a razor blade in the center. The excess was then wrapped around the edge.

7. The rear “Trans Am” decal was centered on the deck lid, from the M and the T, not the smaller “Pontiac” script.

7. The rear “Trans Am” decal was centered on the deck lid, from the M and the T, not the smaller “Pontiac” script.

8. After using the squeegee to work the air out, the masking was carefully removed. The vinyl can peel up, so removing the masking slowly works best.

8. After using the squeegee to work the air out, the masking was carefully removed. The vinyl can peel up, so removing the masking slowly works best.

9. The hard part begins- the hood was cleaned with wax and grease remover. The hood must be absolutely clean for the decal to stick.

9. The hard part begins- the hood was cleaned with wax and grease remover. The hood must be absolutely clean for the decal to stick.

10. The soapy water was liberally sprayed on the hood, while you can put too much, more is definitely better than not enough.

10. The soapy water was liberally sprayed on the hood, while you can put too much, more is definitely better than not enough.

11. Here is where two people are needed. The backing (not the masking paper) was removed while the decal was flat (the decal needs to be unrolled for a few days before applying) and then carefully transferred to the hood.

11. Here is where two people are needed. The backing (not the masking paper) was removed while the decal was flat (the decal needs to be unrolled for a few days before applying) and then carefully transferred to the hood.

12. The tail feathers were centered on the hood center line, the head of the bird was centered as well. The bottom of the feathers should be about an inch above the front of the hood.

12. The tail feathers were centered on the hood center line, the head of the bird was centered as well. The bottom of the feathers should be about an inch above the front of the hood.

13. The decal was lightly squeegeed with the masking on to lock it into place, then the masking was slowly peeled off and the excess liquid and air bubbles were worked out to the edges.

13. The decal was lightly squeegeed with the masking on to lock it into place, then the masking was slowly peeled off and the excess liquid and air bubbles were worked out to the edges.

14. Although this hood bird is on a 10th Anniversary TA the technique is the same. If you manage to work up a big bubble like this, you have a problem. The vinyl has been stretched and you are going to get a wrinkle. The best bet here is to use a pin and pierce the bubble, slowly letting the water out. It won’t be perfect but being careful will minimize the damage.

14. Although this hood bird is on a 10th Anniversary TA the technique is the same. If you manage to work up a big bubble like this, you have a problem. The vinyl has been stretched and you are going to get a wrinkle. The best bet here is to use a pin and pierce the bubble, slowly letting the water out. It won’t be perfect but being careful will minimize the damage.

15. The finished decal completed the installation and looks excellent. Note the matching long stripes on the hood and the roof.

15. The finished decal completed the installation and looks excellent. Note the matching long stripes on the hood and the roof.

 

Sources

Phoenix Graphix

https://www.phoenixgraphix.com/

Red Line Auto Sports

http://www.redlineautosports.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Jefferson Bryant (196 Articles)
A life-long gearhead, Street Tech Magazine founder and editor Jefferson Bryant spends more time in the shop than anywhere else. His career began in the car audio industry as a shop manager, eventually working his way into a position at Rockford Fosgate as a product designer. In 2003, he began writing tech articles for magazines, and has been working as an automotive journalist ever since. His work has been featured in Car Craft, Hot Rod, Rod & Custom, Truckin’, Mopar Muscle, and many more. Jefferson has also written 5 books and produced countless videos. Jefferson operates Red Dirt Rodz, his personal garage studio, where all of his magazine articles and tech videos are produced. You can follow Jefferson on Facebook (Jefferson Bryant), Twitter (71Buickfreak), and YouTube (RedDirtRodz).

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